Addressing the sustainability of OER is important and even crucial ‘If the field of OER is to continue on its trajectory from a nascent movement to the mainstream of education’ as Doug Levin urges in the introduction to the paper he authored with Lisa Petrides and C. Edward Watson, Toward a Sustainable OER Ecosystem: The Case for OER Stewardship. That paper explains what they're calling the CARE Framework. But, we don’t need to worry about OER being sustainable. Starting from a point of view that the sustainability of OER is somehow in question or in doubt is the wrong place to start. That’s a point of view put forth by the people who were making money in the old educational material business model, and also by those who want to make a quick profit in the new OER business model.
Open educational resources are not a fad; they’re not a phase; they’re not a subset of the traditional education publishing model. OER is the new way of sharing educational material. OER sustainability is just a road map; we'll get there.
In 2016 we spent the equivalent of about 60 Billion U.S. dollars on education material, globally. The number for 2017 will be even higher. Most of that money went to the traditional way of distributing educational material that was not openly licensed. The task at hand is to shift the spending that went to traditional copyright publishers to instead paying for faculty to learn how to use openly licensed digital content with their students in dynamic ways that enable new opportunities for all kinds of learners. In addition to faculty professional development, some of that money will need to be shifted to paying for the maintenance of the libraries and repositories where the OER is stored and made easily available. Some of that spending will need to go to pay for the creation of new openly licensed content, especially in those areas that aren’t currently being served well.
The inevitable shift to an OER abundance will occur more quickly if more institutions who have a stake in educational materials become active stewards of OER and begin consciously and explicitly applying the CARE framework. To date, too many educational institutions have farmed out the stewardship of OER to for profit companies who wrap OER in additional materials that could also have an open license, but are sold instead as value add-ons.
A notable exception to this unfortunate trend is the California Community College (CCC) system. The CCC has set out to create a sustainable OER ecosystem. The CCC proposes “to create the California Community College OER Initiative (CCCOERI) that serves to coordinate OER activities in the CCCs, including content curation, review, modification, and development; ancillary resource curation and development; and the provision of support to address copyright, accessibility, technical, and other related issues (e.g., print on demand).” When all of the institutions in the AAC&U begin to emulate the efforts of the CCC system, the CARE Framework will be solidly in place. Thank you, California Community College system, for leading the way.